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BYU Basketball Seeking Constructive Bounce Back Against St. John’s

BYU forward Gideon George and the Cougars will look to bounce back against St. John's in Bubbleville. (Photo: Bob Blanchard / Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame @HoopHall)

Which BYU team will show up on Wednesday against St. John’s in Bubbleville?

Head coach Mark Pope hopes it’s not the one that was on display Tuesday against USC. Pope did not sugarcoat his team’s loss against the Trojans calling the 26-point setback a “gut check” and a “shellacking” during his Zoom call with Greg Wrubell on the BYU Sports Network.

There’s no time to get down on the setback against the Trojans, and that might be a good thing for BYU to try and erase its abysmal 28 percent shooting performance from its memory. Next up for the Cougars in the Legends Classic showcase is the St. John’s Red Storm from the Big East Conference. An opponent BYU didn’t know they would be playing this season until Monday afternoon.

The Johnnies come into the game with a 3-0 record after defeating Boston College in a wild game that saw the Red Storm down by 10, up by 20, and then ultimately winning by four.

BYU’s setback against USC was the first loss of the year and the first sign of adversity to hit this team with so many new faces. Mark Pope isn’t using the embarrassing performance against USC as a reason to mope; he wants his guys to respond in short order.

“Listen, we’re gonna mourn and grieve and piss and moan a little bit here and acknowledge this performance for what it was and learn from it,” Pope said to the BYU Sports Network. “It’s gonna be really painful for the next couple of hours, 100 percent. Because it deserves to be, and that’s the way it is.

“Then what we have to do is get constructive, and that transition is really hard. It’s the key to life; it’s how you respond to the game. So, we’ll get constructive, and we’ll fix it. There’s no way we’re walking on the floor like this again tomorrow; there’s no way. It won’t happen.”

To get that constructive performance Pope is seeking, BYU needs to shoot the ball better. That’s a strange thing to say for a Mark Pope-led BYU team, but 23 percent from the three-point range will never lead to victories.

From the 7:37 mark of the first half to the early seconds in the seconds of the 2nd half, BYU missed nine consecutive three-pointers. BYU has a roster filled with players that can knock down shots. Just last week, BYU hit 18 three-pointers, but now that adversity has struck this team, their response on Wednesday against St. John’s will say a lot about them in the future.

“You have to go through the process. We’ll see. We’re gonna see who we are. The whole world is gonna see who we are tomorrow, and we’re gonna find out for ourselves. That’s one of the great things about sports is when you have a historically awful night like this, you get a chance to prove that’s an anomaly and not the norm. We’re gonna get tested,” said Pope.

“This deal we’re walking into [against St. John’s] is a freaking buzzsaw, so there’s gonna be nothing easy about it. It’s going to test us to our very core. So that’s an exciting place to be, and we’ve got to ring the bell. We’ll see if we can do it.”

What you need to know about St. John’s

That buzzsaw Pope was alluding to is the Johnnies full-court defense they run. They’ll run it for a full 40 minutes. It’s a signature trait of head coach Mike Anderson who learned under National Champion winning coach Nolan Richardson at Arkansas.

With being a full-court pressure team, St. John’s is 16th in the country in steals with 11.7 per game.

St. John’s is led by sophomore Julian Champagnie. The Big East All-Freshman team selection missed the Johnnies first two games of the season with a sprained right ankle but wasted no time in his return back to the court, scoring 29 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in St. John’s win over Boston College.

Ken Pomeroy’s ratings currently have St. John’s rated at No. 73. Entering the season, the Red Storm was picked to finish ninth in a loaded Big East Conference.

This is BYU’s first meeting with St. John’s since 1990 when the Cougars hosted the Johnnies at the Marriott Center as part of the old Cougar Classic. St. John’s leads the all-time series 7-1, with BYU’s lone victory coming in 1956 in New York City.

What’s at stake for BYU/St. John’s

BYU is looking to avoid the first two-game losing streak of the Mark Pope era. Last year’s team did not string together consecutive losses. This is an important game for BYU to avoid a losing skid with in-state rival Utah State looming on Saturday night.

St. John’s is seeking its second 4-0 start in three seasons. Two years ago, under the direction of Chris Mullin, St. John’s opened with a 12-0 record.

Projected starting lineups

BYU (3-1)

G – Alex Barcello, Sr.; 6-2, 180

G – Brandon Averette, Sr.; 5-11, 185

F – Connor Harding, Jr.; 6-6, 185

F – Matt Haarms, Sr.; 7-3, 250

C – Kolby Lee, Jr.; 6-9, 240

St. John’s (3-0)

G – Posh Alexander, Fr.; 6-0, 205

G – Greg Williams Jr., Soph.; 6-3, 200

G/F – Vince Cole, Jr.; 6-6, 185

F – Josh Roberts, Jr.; 6-9, 220

F – Isaih Moore, Jr.; 6-10, 205

BYU vs. St. John’s

Date: December 2nd, 2020

Location: Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, Connecticut)

Tip: 3 p.m. (MT)

TV: ESPN2

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m., KSL Newsradio). Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper and the KSL Sports app.

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